Maureen Dowd on papal blindness



Saint John Paul ll according to the papal diktat  has entered the realm of those specially favoured by God. He was accompanied by the roly poly peasant pope, the man who turned the triumphalist Catholic church upside down Giovanni Roncalli. this  apparently pleased both wings of a highly polarized church.

We should understand that saints are humans, like all of us, have their flaws and that  is perfectly fine. Saint John Paul ll was no exception. A towering figure on the global stage, he was less  than inspirational in his own Catholic church. He was a man who constantly counseled  his co-believers to “be not afraid” yet he inspired much fear in those employed in the institutional church. He arbitrarily attempted to impose his view on the whole church. It was an anti-democratic, imperious view which constantly ignored collegial input from  fellow bishops and, as for the laity, he never considered  their views particularly if they did not buy his brand of restorationist policies.

One of his most obvious failings was his poor judge of character. He constantly promoted anti-intellectual and rigid dogmatists to vacant sees. These men were largely considered by church watchers more notable for their slavish adherence to everything which came out of Rome. They were never interested in the sensus fidelium of the people they were sworn to serve . They acted as branch plant managers of the unipolar line emanating from Rome. So many bishops had poor listening skills and were tone deaf to the signs of the times, the Spirit wisdom bubbling up in history—the cry of women, the voice of the people of God, the cry of the anguished  heart, the cry for ecumenical relations.


These men were part of the lost years, the ice age of Catholicism. The JP ll appointees in the end were idolaters of hard line papal edicts. In diocese after diocese the great men of Vatican ll were replaced by the grey men of John Paul ll.  Paralyzed by their dedication to an institution, they circled the wagons  and ignored Christ among  the vulnerable and broken lives of the sexually abused and their  shattered loved ones.

Two Catholics in the public eye, reacted to JP ll s elevation to sainthood. One at a time.

First, the lay voice of Catholic columnist Maureen Dowd of the New York Times. Dowd began her article by reminiscing about her own baptism as she attended mass at Nativity her childhood church. She then launched into a barely controlled tirade against the canonization of JP ll.


John Paul was a charmer, and a great man in many ways. But given that he presided over the Catholic Church during nearly three decades of a gruesome pedophilia scandal and grotesque cover-up, he ain’t no saint.

Dowd acknowledged the many talents of the late pope already acknowledged here, but then she quoted Ken Briggs, the well known religion writer:

This is a political balancing act, Unfortunately, the comparisons are invidious. John opened up the church to the world and J.P. II began to close it down again, make it into a more restricted community, putting boundaries up. He has a cloud hanging over his papacy.”



Then Dowd moved into high gear, opinions widely shared by many Catholics:

One of John Paul’s great shames was giving Vatican sanctuary to Cardinal Bernard Francis Law, a horrendous enabler of child abuse who resigned in disgrace in 2002 as archbishop of Boston. Another unforgivable breach was the pope’s stubborn defense of the dastardly Mexican priest Marcial Maciel Degollado, a pedophile, womanizer, embezzler and drug addict.

Again we have here a stunning lack of papal judgment on the character of people whose greatest talents were fund raising and flattery.

Maciel according to his journalistic exposer Jason Berry was “the greatest fund-raiser for the postwar Catholic Church and equally its greatest criminal.”


Dowd again:

His order, the Legionaries of Christ, which he ran like a cult and ATM for himself and the Vatican for 65 years, denounced him posthumously in February for his “reprehensible and object. The statement followed a United Nations report upbraiding the church for turning a blind eye to child abuse by priests and the sins of Father Maciel, who had serially abused adolescent seminarians, some as young as 12, and had several children with at least two women. His sons also claimed he abused them..

Dowd went on to criticize JP ll for his woeful inaction in this area. Many Catholics agree with her. Saints like all of us have blind spots. Dowd is no less a Catholic for pointing this out.

Given the searing damage the scandal has done to so many lives and to the church, that rationalization that pope was kept in the dark doesn’t have a prayer. that the accusations were phony one He needed to recognize the scope of the misconduct and do something, not play the globe-trotting ostrich.






  1. 1
    wmgrace Says:

    There is a lot of obfuscation around the canonization of JPII; more specifically around his acts of commission or omission, in the “sex abuse scandal”. Recent assessments of JP, even with the many affirmations of his greatness, raise in my mind, more doubts about the man, than anything else. The editorial – Flaws as well as greatness – NCR (April 25 – May 8th), fails to provide a much needed review and clarification of his role. On one hand, it leads us through the ad extra successes of the pope on the world stage, and on the other hand we learn of his somewhat autocratic ad intra management style, within the church. Overall, the article endorses the man and his canonization, but it does so while ignoring the content and substance of many published articles over the past several years (some of which appeared in NCR), which clearly implicate JP in the deception and cover-up of the clerical pedophilia scandal – articles which suggest that he was little concerned about the victims and the actual crimes, but more concerned about the optics of the scandal and, by inference, his own reputation as a church leader.

    The editorial dedicates some 200 words (in an article which runs maybe 1300 words ) to the crimes and essentially, to my way of thinking, whitewashes JPII’s involvement by saying that “JP’s inattention to internal church affairs created fertile conditions…for the scandal” and that “he was dismissive of the growing horrors”. The article also states that the crimes continued because he ignored the warnings of his Bishops. Using words like “ignore”, and “dismiss” suggest that his failure was in not taking adequate notice of these things, or treating the reports as unworthy of his consideration. The reader is left with the idea, by insinuation, that for one reason or another, JP was not fully cognizant of the damage being done. To me, the insinuation is that he was somewhat in the dark, and that if he had only listened, he (we?) would have come out of this ok. Really?

    I think a more honest and accurate analysis would suggest that he didn’t ignore anything at all: he listened, he knew, and he chose not to act. In other words, the crimes continued not because he ignored warnings but because of his failure to act on what he most assuredly knew – priests and Bishops were involved in crimes of pedophilia, and there was no doubt about it. That is not a subtle difference in viewpoint, from that of the NCR editorial. He was a guy who ran a tight ship – remember, the ad intra dictator, not at all a guy with his head in the clouds. JP clearly defined his own role and often the roles of those around him: he did a lot more than passively ignoring warnings from Bishops – he knew the full scale of the crime and approved of and orchestrated the cover-ups. Its likely that his own hubris along with his near absolute power, led him to believe that he could actually get away with it. I don’t think he will ever get out from under this legacy, and I’m sure that in the minds of many Catholics, those who support the ascendancy of truth over Catholic triumphalism, he clearly fails to reach the bar set for sainthood.

  2. 2

    Here’s an article about Maureen Dowd that is a bit more intelligent than Ted’s silly column:

    • 3
      wmgrace Says:

      The Catholic church has always been, surprise, a rather inward-looking institution. Shouldn’t we have some appreciation for columnists like Dowd who take the time to reflect back to us, exactly how we are perceived in the secular world, and in their terms, not ours? Isn’t it important that the Catholic church learns to see itself as others see it?

      The Dowdian template works at the NYT, but obviously it would not work well at the Commonweal. Conversely, Mollie Wilson O’Reilly would not likely generate much of a following in the NYT Op Eds. Mollie throws words around like manhole covers, and it wouldn’t be unfair to say that she turns writing into a heavy industry.

  3. 4

    WM: Of course we should engage in critical introspection. But Maureen Dowd? Look how far we’ve come? From Dante and Erasmus of Rotterdam, to Maureen Dowd. Yikes. Erasmus was critical of the hierarchy, but in a way that was intelligent, brilliant, classy, and funny. Dante was also brilliant. But Schmidt and Dowd are just silly because their arguments are filled with fallacies. Because the scandal happened under his papacy? It broke under his papacy, but these scoundrels got into the priesthood long before JP II entered the picture. Part of the reason these scoundrels got in in the first place was as a result of the moral permissiveness after Vatican II. JP II brought the Church into a level of moral sanity. Bishops began to weaken, they didn’t want to proclaim the difficult truths, only the obvious ones that everyone agreed on, life was too good for them in Canada, they didn’t want to risk decreasing revenues. St. Columbanus said in the 6th century that it was that very comfortable living that weakened the bishops of Gaul. They were furious at him because he upset the apple cart. He preached and lived austerity. If we don’t live austere lives, we’re going to back down on proclaiming and challenging, because we will fear that our livelihood will be taken away. Doesn’t that sound familiar? When was the last time you heard a good sermon preached on morality that challenges individuals on their own personal lives–not the preaching that challenges governments, but individual persons. Governments and nations are one thing, but if you piss off the people in front of you, there will be immediate consequences. They will give less, maybe not even return. Preach to me about far away issues, but don’t go near my sex life. You mess with that, and I mess with you. That’s the attitude for a lot of them. Ask any priest. He’ll tell you of the phone messages or unsigned letters he’s received. People like the light and fluffy. And clergy have cooperated with it.

    Maureen Dowd is too stupid to be taken seriously. She’s almost as bad as Ted.

  4. 5
    wmgrace Says:

    49: I think its important to understand that the issue is not about Maureen Dowd, its about the content of an op-ed she wrote in the New York Times, “A Saint He Ain’t”, April 22, 2014. As soon as we forget that, the debate runs off the rails. There is always a possibility of finding some common ground or even increasing our knowledge, in a serious argument, but as soon as we enter that other personal realm, its pretty much game over.

    Similarly, this blog is not about Ted. Its about a narrative (yes, caustic at times, but always out of love for the Church) which Ted, like Dowd, reveals to the readers.

  5. 6

    WM: you are right, it is not about Dowd, nor is it about Ted. And you are right when you say: “as soon as we enter that other personal realm…” That’s precisely the point. If you look at how Erasmus, for example, is critical of the hierarchy, or Dante, or any other saint, they do NOT get personal, they do not name names. But Ted and Maureen do address a particular man. A Saint He Ain’t. How the hell does she know? That’s the point. She doesn’t know. She does not have the evidence that is needed in order to make that judgment. There is way too much to know. Most of what she ‘knows” is hearsay, half baked, the product of inferencing, etc. We have to be very careful when it comes to accusing someone of some sort of misconduct. There are so many details that we are not privy to. We don’t know what JP II knew and did not know. We don’t know what power he had. Not even Cardinals have absolute power over their jurisdiction. What does a bishop do, for example, when someone comes forward to tells him that this or that scandalous thing is occurring at a parish? Should he just believe it without question and act on it, no matter how outrageous it appears to be? Should he proceed with caution? Should he wait for evidence? These are not easy questions, and hindsight is 20/20. Hindsight bias is a very important factor that should not be overlooked. The fact of the matter is that there is so much information that you need to have in order to accuse someone of mishandling or negligence, and clearly Ted and Dowd do not have the evidence; it never appears in their blogs or articles. It’s a lot of conjecture. They over simplify a very complex phenomenon. Maureen Down is a journalist who very often gets her facts and figures wrong.

    Let’s criticize what needs to be criticized in the hierarchy, but pointing the finger at a particular bishop is dangerous, because there is so much that we don’t know. I don’t think Ted appreciates the epistemological gaps in ordinary knowledge. As Mark Twain pointed out: if one does not read the newspaper, one is uninformed; if one reads the newspaper, one is misinformed.

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